Men’s Sabre was full of surprises in 2008, in one of the more upset leaden Olympics in recent history. Chinese fencer Hanming Zhou rode the energy of a home crowd to oust 2004 Silver medal winner Zsolt Nemcsik in the round of 32 in a stunning upset 15-13, and this set the tone for the day. In the same round French sabrest Nicolas Lopez dominated Stanislav Pozdnyakov, who is in likely his last Olympics, 15-8. Pozdnyakov is hardly in decline, winning the 2007 World Championship to cement his place in history as the greatest of all time, but he seemed overwhelmed by the energy of the 28-year-old Lopez.
The round of 16 featured even more surprises: defending Olympic Champion Aldo Montano losing 14-15 to Jorge Pina of Spain, 20 seed Julien Pillet defeated 4 seed Rares Dumitrescu and Aliaksandr Buikevich of Belgrade defeated the young German star #1 seed Nicolas Limbach 15-14. In the round of 8 a heartbreaking moment for US Fencing when 5th ranked Keeth Smart lost to Pillet of France.
The grande finale to this outstanding tourney was the champion Man Zhong, who defeated the Italian captain Luigi Tarantino en route to an unlikely gold finish. Zhong is a recent emergence and was riding a hot streak entering the games, and the Chinese crowd undoubtedly energized him as he out hustled all of his competitors.
If anything can be taken from this event going into the team tourney, it is the dominance of the French, the defending Olympic and World Champions. All three of the starters on their national team reached the round of 16, something no other team matched and scored many of the major upsets. Pillet’s victories over Keeth Smart and Rares Dumitrescu and Lopez’s dismantling of Pozdnyakov and Eunseok Oh of Korea bode very well for Frances chance of repeating.
Boris Sanson the captain and veteran did not have his best tournament but he is very capable of taking over in the team event. The French will have their work cut out for them, this strong performance has landed the target on their backs for many of the world’s top sabrists are looking for redemption in the team event.
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